From Kennedy’s Cold War to the War on Terror: Gareth Jenkins looks for continuities in American foreign policy from the 1960s to the 2000s. (Gareth Jenkins, June 2006, History Today)
‘The United States is in the early years of a long struggle, similar to what our country faced in the early years of the Cold War. The 20th century witnessed the triumph of freedom over the threats of fascism and communism. Yet a new totalitarian ideology now threatens, an ideology grounded not in secular philosophy but in the perversion of a proud religion.’
–US National Security Strategy, March 2006
The US invasion of Iraq of 2003 is viewed by many as a historical watershed, as ushering in a new era in which the world’s only superpower feels unconstrained in resorting to pre-emptive military action to achieve its strategic goals. For the first time in more than half a century the term imperialism has regained common currency, and there is renewed interest in understanding the European scramble for colonies in the late nineteenth century.
No doubt the period we are entering does in many ways mark a new historical phase. Global power relations are accommodating rapidly to new economic realities – the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the rise of China and India and the emergence of structural weaknesses in the US economy. Nevertheless, as George Bush recently reminded us, there are many continuities with the past half century of the American exercise of power.
There have been continual assaults on the sovereignty of Third World countries, backed by covert and overt military interventions, throughout the period since the Cold War was launched. [...]
The ideological underpinnings of America’s projection of its global power are very different today from what they were in Kennedy’s time. During the Cold War, Washington could at least point to an enemy that controlled a huge state armed with nuclear weapons. Today one is asked to believe that life as we know it is threatened from a cave in Afghanistan, or by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction that no one could find, or by a civil nuclear programme in Iran that could, one day perhaps, morph into a military programme.
The ideological underpinnings never waver, only the enemies of that ideology do:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.